When Richard L. Bright began teaching in Anne Arundel County in 1961, he remembers the principal scolding the female students about their short skirts.
In his 48th year as a county schoolteacher and final year at Old Mill High School in Millersville, Bright said, the school's announcement system buzzes daily with a message to students: "Girls, cover up, and boys, pull up your pants."
"In that sense, things never change," said Bright, 75, who is retiring and planning to take a week to clean out his classroom after his final day of school last Tuesday.
A social studies and history teacher who began a drama program at one school and for many years taught students to build intricate stage sets for school plays, Bright has taught generations of Anne Arundel students since he was hired to teach at what is now George Fox Middle School. He spent three years there, until moving to Northeast High School in 1964, the year it opened. Bright also began teaching at Old Mill in its first year — 1975.
"I've always enjoyed working with the students," said Bright, in an interview last week in the small classroom where he has taught U.S. history to juniors for the past several years. "It's something when I can see their achievement, because sometimes you wonder if it's going over their head. And then a student says, 'Mr. Bright, it's like this.' And you realize, they got it."
Bright grew up in Keyser, W.Va., and in sixth grade his mother, a teacher, taught his class — a school year during which he had to "walk the straight and narrow," he said. Bright graduated in 1957 from West Virginia University, where he participated in JROTC, and went on to serve in the Army, training on an anti-aircraft artillery, in the days that cannons were still used to shoot down enemy planes.
Bright married his high school sweetheart, to whom he's been married for 51 years.
After a yearlong stint in the Army, he did substitute teaching in his home state for a few months before getting hired in Anne Arundel.
At Northeast, Bright marveled that the school's brand-new auditorium wasn't used for much, except the occasional mock election. Bright, who had acted in two plays in high school, suggested it be utilized more. He said the principal told him, "Well, Bright, work out something, and we'll all come see it."
Bright partnered with an English teacher, and the school's drama program began. Bright remembered putting on the satirical musical "Li'l Abner," a production, he said, that "put Northeast on the map."
By his third year at the school, it had hired a drama teacher, and Bright moved onto the business part, running the stage crew. He also helped install a chapter of the National Thespian Society.
John Scripture, chair of the social studies department at Old Mill, who is also retiring this year after 36 years of teaching, said Bright always "loved teaching" and set design "was where he really shined."
"He made some really amazing, creative sets," said Scripture, who also conducted the orchestra at the school. "He empowered the students to be creative and learn problem-solving and how to manage the logistics. He had the kids doing the work — that impressed me the most."
In those days, Bright said, he "practically lived here," teaching during the day, holding rehearsals after school and coming back at night to build sets. Bright said he's most proud of student productions of "A Chorus Line" and "Fiddler on the Roof."
"One time I spent the entire second act up on the rafters holding pieces of the set together," Bright said.
All three of Bright's daughters went to Old Mill, but he never taught them. His daughters, he said, "tried every way possible to not let anyone know I was [their] father."
Though he was a frequent prom chaperone in those days, "they forbid me to go to their proms."
While some things about schools and students haven't changed much, technology has transformed the classroom. Bright remembers using a hand-crank ditto master to make copies in his first year of teaching and recalls when electronic copy machines were brand new.
"I thought, 'This is great, I don't have to write everything on the chalkboard,'" Bright said.
He's also had to adjust to students texting on cell phones in class — a violation of school rules — and what he called the "most stirring piece of technology," which gives parents the ability to check their child's grades electronically.
Bright said it allows "parents to go into a teacher's grade book" — a good thing, in his estimation, because he said parents will have a better grasp of how students are performing.
Bright, who has taught social studies, government and U.S. history, said in more recent years he's enjoyed giving his students personal insights into historical events or time periods.
A popular story with students, Bright said, was his first date in ninth grade. He took a girl to the movies, he said, and because they arrived late, the only seats were way up front, where they would have to strain their necks to see, or in the back of the theater.
They chose the rear seats. After sitting down, Bright said, an usher informed him, "You're sitting in the colored section."
Bright, who is white, had to move.
"He really brings a fascinating perspective to history," said Sheila Hill, the principal at Old Mill.
Bright, who also has six grandchildren and one great-grandson, said it never occurred to him to retire earlier, because he so loved his job.
He has no definite plans for how he'll keep busy in retirement. He's pretty sure, he said, his wife has a list of chores for him.